The past few years have been for me an invitation to enter into courage, endurance, and trust. Through the many changes that have come as my children have grown and left home, my world has shifted emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I’ve come face to face with separation from loved ones, and with the loss of spiritual certainty, at times struggling to trust the goodness of God. I’ve entered into the hard work of sanctification, cooperating with what God was doing by looking at myself honestly while the things that had filled my life with busyness began to drop away, and by choosing not to fill my life with more busyness.
When, several years ago, one of my children first attended Wheatstone Academy, I became aware of the isolation I experience while living where I do. The purposeful and life-giving community and the rich wealth of learning I saw her experiencing awakened in me a great longing for the same, and launched me on my own journey toward a deeper experience of literature and liturgy, and toward the real meaning of community.
Ultimately, in this time of reevaluation, I have allowed myself to become aware of pain and loneliness in ways I had not acknowledged before, and have been changed in the process. Life, as a result, seems both darker and sweeter, messier and more real. This year’s issues of The Examined Life have been particularly relevant to me, and this opportunity to look back at the Parents Articles has been a helpful synthesis of my own thought and experience.
One of the ways I have sought to enter the rich world my children have entered is through the common ground of books; I originally intended to read much of what they were reading at school, and quickly discovered the impossibility of that project. Peter David Gross’s “Quick Bits Book List” was a delight in its recognition both of the desire of parents to share their students’ experience of literary treasures and the reality of the demands and pressures that forestall the blocks of time necessary to engage with Great Books. The list is a delightful invitation to begin (or return) to the practice of good reading, and provides many diverse options for reading that invites growth and pure enjoyment.
Vivian Hyatt’s “Raising Children With Rituals” reminded me of my full days of purposeful parenting. While it painted an inspiring portrait of family togetherness that didn’t just happen by chance, it also caused me to feel sad about missed opportunities, grateful for things we did do well, and amazed at the passage of time. It takes courage to parent purposefully, and it takes courage again to look back after it is over and accept failures along with the joyful memories. And, once more, it takes courage to move into the next phase of life and see the goodness of it all.
Katherine Peters reflected on enduring through inequality with “Harmony, Not Homogeneity.” It reminded me of the incredible gift I have been given in the three very different individuals my children are, and of the joy that has come as I have watched them become more fully and uniquely themselves. It also reminded me that as a child of God, I am seen and understood perfectly as the unique individual I am. My trust grows as I work toward the acceptance of my imperfections and the imperfections of my circumstances in the light of the knowledge of his love.
In January, I learned that my oldest daughter and son-in-law, along with my two small grandsons, would be moving over 400 miles away. Part of me had always feared being separated from all my children and needing to be content with occasional visits, rather than sharing everyday life. Jennifer Snell’s “How to Lose” reflected what I would continue to learn in the following months: that loving and loss often accompany one another, that avoiding the pain of loss by loving less only destroys us, and that feeling loss and pain opens us in equal measure to feeling the joys of life. As I shared my sadness with others, I experienced the solidarity that Jennifer beautifully describes. I had known God was present, but he also wanted me to know his love through the kindness of those who cared for me.
Through this path of change and growth there have been days of darkness—times when I wondered what God was up to in bringing upheaval and uncertainty to so much of my life. It is a place that requires patience. Cate McDonald’s “God in My Darkness” describes the place where uncertainty can lead us—not quite knowing how we (or a loved one) got to a dark place, or what we are meant to do there. There is pain as well as wonder in her description of God’s pursuit of and patient waiting for her, until he “revealed he was there all along.” For me, some of what God has been doing is much clearer now, but still there are so many things I’d like to know. I’d like to know that my son will be safe in the midst of his adventures, that all my loved ones will be kept safe. I’d like to know what God is calling me to do next with my life. I’d like to know that there will be plenty of wonderful times together as a family, and that the rich life I have been given a glimpse of will increasingly become a reality for me. But I am learning to be still as I wait for life to unfold, because what I do know is that he is with me and with those I love.
I’ve heard it said and have experienced for myself that as God works sanctification in us, there are times of respite, places of rest in between the times of discomfort. I used to think that the repeated cycles of painful learning were a reflection on some way that I was failing to learn the lessons, but now I recognize better the grace-filled shaping and molding of the Potter. It is in the moments of rest between cycles that we can “endure toward pain” continuing to remain in still places so that we know his voice, being in the place we’ve come to as a result of past pain, and responding to opportunities to comfort others. I’m left with gratitude for these past years; gratitude for God’s presence in pain and in darkness, and for his faithfulness to complete what he has begun, not just in me but also those he entrusted to me.